Just like every other Tuesday and Thursday Giants broadcaster Duane Kuiper joined the KNBR morning show to discuss the sports topics of the day.
After the normal pleasantries and small talk about the MVP, things moved onto deeper topics. If you want to listen along, the audio is here, starting at around six minutes in:
If not, I transcribed the part that I want to take a deeper look at.
Brian Murphy: “Do you believe in that Wins Above Replacement stat, WAR? I don’t even understand it. There is now a mathematical metric that can value you how many wins you are worth to your team and all the new metric people love this stat.”
Well I have to say that I think Wendy is in the right here. Mr. Murphy said pretty explicitly that he didn’t understand what wins above replacement meant. Maybe he does and he was just putting on a show to gain some old school cred, but he did in fact say that he didn’t understand what it means.
If you are interested in how to calculate WAR, it really isn’t that difficult as long as you have a working understanding of multiplication and division on the order of operations. Tom Tango has a nice little explanation that can get you the replacement level, positional adjustments and batting runs.
Figuring out base running and defense is a bit more complicated, but if you want to trust the eyeball test you could at the very minimum put people into categories like good, average and poor, assign those run values and get your self about 80-90 percent of the way to calculating things yourself. At the very least, understanding the inputs isn’t too hard.
Paul McCaffrey: “It’s kinda like a plus/minus in hockey a little bit”
At the very least you can say that Pauly Mac took his best shot at trying to keep people in the dark.
BM: “It’s a very fascinating stat but like I said Kuip, I don’t understand it. But in WAR in 88, Kirk Gibson was at 6.2, the only two guys in the top ten who had a higher WAR were Orel Hershiser who finished 6th (with) 6.8 and who finished 5th… Will Clark with a 6.3 WAR. So anyway, do you buy into that wins above replacement stuff, do you follow that?”
Hey look the I don’t understand WAR is back and not the I don’t know how to calculate it.
So no, I guess she didn’t hear wrong at all. And about this “Chad Johnson humor”…
Yeah, telling someone f-you — even in a “nice” way as then-Ochocinco described it on Hard Knocks — doesn’t usually translate to any world all that well.
Duane Kuiper: “Well if I knew exactly how they went out to determine, you know what these guys did, I mean obviously they must have came up with a big hit or maybe even a sacrifice fly, I think all that goes into how they figure out those numbers.”
I would hate to break it to Kuiper that the timing of hits doesn’t factor into WAR at all (but WPA does do that!)
BM: “Well I think that it is also defense and base running is somehow factored in too.”
For someone who “doesn’t understand it” Murphy sure does seem to at least have a basic understanding. It also includes positional adjustments, and there is also a playing time component.
DK: “Yeah, I am sure all that is factored in, but the point is, look anybody that’s got a low number in this WAR thing is probably not going to be even nominated to be a possible MVP. So did they have one on Buster?”
This is kind of nitpicking, but people aren’t nominated for the award. That being said, a low WAR sure doesn’t stop players from picking up votes. Look no further than last year where Ryan Howard posted a 0.9 rWAR and finished 10th in the MVP vote. Stuff like this happens all the time.
BM: “Yes. I will get it for you in just a second.”
DK: “Come on, you said you were the Houdini of this thing.”
Actually, I think we established that he said he didn’t understand this WAR thingy.
BM: “You caught me, I was still studying my ’88 ballot. You really had me going on the ’88 ballot. Yeah, okay. The only guy in the big leagues with a higher WAR than Buster Posey. Mike Trout of the Angels.”
You know where this conversation is headed in a minute.
BM: “Mike Trout had a 10.0, he was worth 10 wins to his team. Buster Posey 8.0”
Well, ten wins compared to a hypothetical replacement player that is freely available on waivers or in AAA. You know, that “AAAA” guy who is in most systems.
DK: “Well let me ask you this, now that you’re on the WAR thing, if Trout’s WAR was that high what was Miguel Cabrera’s?”
I told you it was coming.
BM: “7.1, and in the American League he was behind Robinson Cano and Trout. Cano’s was 7.8.”
DK: “There’s another one today that is going to be interesting with Cabrera and Trout. There’s a lot of arguments for both. But look, you win a triple crown and on a winning team, you have to probably win it.”
Interesting note, if MLB was like other leagues and kept only league stats instead of splitting things up by conference, Cabrera wouldn’t have won the triple crown at all. It would have been all Buster Posey’s fault too. If Cabrera doesn’t have the triple crown narrative, people probably take a more sober look at things and see that he wasn’t quite as good as Trout.
BM: “Well I don’t know Kuip, we were talking about this earlier, this guy Nate Silver, he is this statistician who predicted the presidential election almost perfectly. He wrote a really compelling easy for Trout and he said it is about defense and base running too. Trout so outdistances Cabrera in defense and base running that you have to factor that in, and offensively he is not that far behind Cabrera in all the other numbers. His argument was that it was actually Trout by a decent margin is what he would say.”
I wonder if this is what Murphy actually believes or if he was just playing devil’s advocate to balance out Kuiper’s Cabrera support?
This is also true. Silver took the poll data to forecast the odds of certain events happening. This isn’t really predicting as much as it is looking at the data and making an educated guess based on the data. Kind of like what baseball forecasting is but with much more random variation and unknown variables that make it much more difficult.
DK: “Well look, whatever way they go I don’t think anyone is going to have a problem with it. Although I am sure the people in Detroit will have a major problem with it.”
Yeah, Kuiper probably isn’t aware that people will probably flip out when Cabrera wins too, because Trout is the better player. Then the conversation turned to another interesting topic, Gold Gloves and defense, but that is a windmill to tilt at for another day.
In the end, you have to realize that Murphy is here to entertain us, to get us talking about him and his show, and most of all to listen to what he says on the radio so KNBR can sell advertising.
For the most part I find Murphy to be entertaining, but I am baffled as to why he seemed to go out of his way to denigrate WAR. I guess it’s a positive that WAR is being talked about, but it sure seems that anytime something that isn’t average, RBI or HR it is always with a laugh and a wink. Like, “We’ll spend some time talking about it, but it really isn’t that important and don’t feel bad if you just dismiss this next part without thinking about things.”
Murphy seems like a smart guy who dumbs himself down to play a character on the radio. Most of the time it works just fine, but there are instances when it seems like he is talking down to his audience. As a member of that audience, I make this request: if you are going to wade into advanced stats, please do your homework so you can talk about them like you know something. Or, just don’t bring them up at all. That really shouldn’t be too much to ask.